Douglas County pitches 7% pay hike for employees

Kurt Hildebrand
Record Courier

STATELINE, Nev. — Officials are pitching a 7% across-the-board pay increase for county workers in an effort to staunch the flow to surrounding jurisdictions.

While members of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Protective and Sergeants Bargaining Unit associations are negotiating contracts this year, there’s another two years on the Douglas County Employee Association contract.

Under their current contract, employees receive a 2% cost of living adjustment, but as prices for gas increase, so is the cost of living.

According to a report that was released on Tuesday, the 7% would cost the county $3.6 million with $2.3 million of that coming out of the general fund.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the region is facing labor shortages which are driving wage increases not seen for twenty years,” said County Manager Patrick Cates. “Douglas County is falling behind in terms of market compensation and interest in county positions is declining. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to recruit and retain qualified employees for critical positions.”

According to a report prepared by county officials based on a data gathered by County Auditor Moss Adam, turnover more than doubled in 2017 from 51 to 115 employees quitting.

Because employees are a recurring cost, none of the programs pouring millions of federal dollars into local governments can be used to subsize the workforce.

Chief Financial Officer Terri Willoughby said balancing the budget requires that operating funds must cover operations, including employees.

“This policy ensures that the county does not use one-time or nonrecurring resources, such as federal grant funds to fund ongoing expenses, which would create a structural imbalance,” she said.

Over the past four years, the county has seen 83-124 resignations a year, while the number of people applying for jobs has dropped 28%.

“It is likely the county would experience recruitment and retention challenges in this labor market even if wages remained competitive with public sector employers for the region,” according to the report. “Compensation is not the ultimate solution; however, if the county does not take steps to address compensation it will fall further behind and in some instances may need to make decisions regarding reducing or eliminating services.”

According to the auditor, the county has 83 vacant positions, which is putting more weight on other employees.

“Inadequate staffing can create burnout leading to an increased risk of voluntary resignation amongst remaining team members if unaddressed,” according to the report. “Adjusting compensation to more closely reflect the rates of pay for the market in the regions is a critical step forward.”

Cates said the effects of turnover have already resulted in a loss of services.

“Adjusting compensation to more closely reflect the rates of pay for the public sector market in the region is a critical step forward,” he said.

Douglas isn’t just competing with surrounding jurisdictions for workers, but also the private sector, where compensation has increased by 40% for service occupations, 27% for office and administration support and 24% for professionals.

The county is having trouble finding people to work in accounting, recreation, planning, engineering, policing, legal counsel, information technology, emergency communications and public works.

“Public sector employers have taken similar steps to offer flexible workplace practices such as remote working but may not be able to keep up with private sector wage increases in some industries due to existing pay structures and budgetary constraints.”

In July 2021, the Reno-Sparks area had 25,000 job openings with 9,000 people on unemployment.

“As employers began to reopen vacant positions from the pandemic and ramp up services previously impacted or eliminated by shutdowns, they have had to streamline the hiring process to meet operational needs as quickly as possible.”

And while the Great Resignation has contributed, there’s a Great Retirement on the horizon.

According to the report, the average age of a county employee is 46.7 years. In five years, a quarter of the county workforce will be 62 or older with 9% over the age of 65.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.